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The Bible teaches that when a person dies he is dead in every way. His body is dead, and his soul and spirit die also. He is not alive in any form, in heaven or elsewhere. The human body cannot live without a soul, and the soul and spirit cannot live apart from a body. A “person” is an integrated whole. God has designed us so that our parts work in a totally integrated way, and not by themselves. This is one reason why the majority of the uses of “soul” in the Bible do not mean “soul” in the sense of the life force of the body, but rather the entire person. Thus, when Acts 2:43 (KJV) says that “…fear came upon every soul…,” it means fear came upon every person. Once a person dies, he remains dead until he is raised from the dead by the Lord.
It is not our purpose in this short article to go over the clear verses that show that a dead person is dead in every way, or to explain the difficult verses on the subject of what happens when we die, because we do that in our book, Is There Death After Life and our free online seminar, Death & Resurrection to Life. Rather, we will focus on understanding a major reason why there was so much confusion at the time of Christ about what happened to people when they died. This confusion shows up vividly in the division between the Pharisees and the Sadducees. The Pharisees asserted that after death the soul lived apart from the body and went to a place of either torture or bliss, while the Sadducees thought that death was the end of life totally, and even denied the resurrection.
In order to understand the confusion existing at the time of Christ concerning the state of the dead, we must understand what the Greeks believed about what happened when people died. An important part of the Greek religion and philosophy was the belief that each person has a soul that is immortal. In fact, the modern Christian concept of the “immortal soul” does not come from the Bible, but from Greek philosophy.
We must be careful when we generalize about what the Greeks believed, because they were like modern Christians—there is much we agree about, but there are also very distinct differences in what we believe. In general, Greeks believed the soul was immortal, and some believed that humans, animals, and even plants have an immortal soul. To give us an idea of some of the different beliefs about the soul, let us look at four that were held among the Greeks.
* Some believed that once a person died his soul went to “Hades,” the Underworld, for a period of purification, then entered a new body, a cycle that was repeated for eons until that soul was in a completely virtuous person, at which point the transmigration ended and the soul could enter a blessed place, sometimes known as the Blest Isles or Elysian Fields. (It is important that we realize that for most Greeks, Hades was not a place of torture, but a gloomy place where the immortal souls of the dead dwelled).
* Some believed that when a person died his soul went to Hades and faced judgment. If it was found guilty it was punished, which lasted, like the soul itself, forever (this belief most naturally lent itself to the development of the orthodox Christian doctrine of burning in “hell” forever). If the soul was not found guilty, it might wander in Hades, the Underworld, also called the Land of Shades, or it might return in another person.
* Some believed that if the dead body was not taken care of properly when the person died, the immortal soul would wander the earth, possibly even as a ghost, revenging itself upon mankind.
* Some believed what Homer wrote, that the soul of an especially heinous person suffered punishment in Hades, while the souls of the rest of humanity simply suffered the gloomy fate of wandering endlessly in the dark underworld. 
In Greek mythology, Hades was the god of the Underworld, who oversaw the souls of the dead that resided there. Eventually, the name of the god Hades was given to the Underworld itself, so that it was then also called Hades. Greek writers wrote about the Underworld, Hades, but most of the writing was not meant to be a doctrinal presentation. Rather, it was stories and legends of gods and heroes who went there for various reasons, and there are many differences in their stories about what Hades is like. There is, however, one very important similarity: the disembodied souls there were all alive. No immortal soul in Hades was dead. In fact, because the standard Greek belief was that the soul was immortal, no one in Greek mythology ever died. Bodies died, but the “person” lived on in the form of a disembodied soul.
Knowing what the Greeks believed about life after death is very important, because, in 332 BC Alexander the Great conquered Israel, and for more than 150 years the Greeks controlled Jerusalem and Israel. Through the years, Greek thought and religion deeply influenced Jewish culture. By 250 BC there were so many Jews who spoke Greek and not Hebrew that the Old Testament was translated into Greek, in a version we now call the Septuagint. The Greek vocabulary in the Septuagint drove Greek thought even more deeply into the Jewish culture.
One area of Jewish thought and culture that was greatly influenced by the Greeks was the state of the dead. The Hebrew Bible made it clear that the dead were dead in every way. That was the reason the Sadducees believed that when a person died he or she was dead in every sense of the word, and not alive in any form. The real problem with their belief was that it did not take into account the Old Testament teachings of the resurrection from the dead.  Thus, the Sadducees had a dismal and gloomy belief system that had no future joyous hope, but they were right about what happened to people when they died—they are not alive in any form.
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Free Online Seminar: Death & Resurrection to Life
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